Newsletter 470

Published December 20, 2022
Your Christmas shopping worries are over...

From the moment they appeared, NFTs have been poorly understood and controversial. One day we may look back on this week as the time when their absurdity was completely exposed. The defining event would be Donald Trump’s new line in digital trading cards, featuring poorly photoshopped images of the former President’s mug attached to one ludicrously macho body or another. The pick of them is probably the red superhero outfit with a stars & stripes cape and a wrestler’s belt. For only US$99 you could be the owner of one of these marvellous images, which are sure to sell like hot cakes! With every purchase you go into a sweep, in which you might win a zoom call or a game of golf with the man himself.

The only drawback seems to be there is a strict limit of 100 NFTs per customer, but that still leaves the option of buying all 45 of them and be guaranteed an invitation to a Gala Dinner in South Florida. It may, however, be a small dinner because we are told that “each Trump Digital Trading Card has a unique pre-assigned rarity. Some will be one-of-one’s (ie. the only one in the world), while others will be limited to 2, 5, 7, or 10 copies. No Trump Digital Trading Card will have more than 20 copies in existence!” One-of-one’s? Pre-assigned rarity?

If some are the only copies in the world, then surely a single astute buyer would have to acquire each of those one-offs to score the full 45. But as your $99 buys you a randomly generated card, this makes the task impossible. You may, in fact get the same card several times, and then have to start trading with other fans. But maybe there is hope after all, because the fine print announces that “only 45,000 total cards exist in this series.”

At this point I’m really confused. Surely the whole point of NFTs was that one bought a single authorised image protected by blockchain technology. Although that image may be reproduced endless times, the NFT is the only genuinely valuable and marketable item. Now we find, with Trump Digital Trading Cards, that NFTs come in editions of 1,2,5,7 or 10, and only 45,000 exist in total!

It’s hard to imagine even the most diehard Trump fan not noticing the apparent contradictions in the marketing bumpf, but I’ve long ceased marvelling at ease with which so many Americans can be sold anything, whether it’s a bizarre conspracy theory or a large-edition NFT.

Back on Australian shores, Miranda Carroll, the AGNSW’s Director of Public Engagement, has written to tell me the gallery invited “around 1500 artists” to the opening party for Sydney Modern, which proves that I’ve been talking to all the wrong artists. Invitations were also sent to “all cultural leaders,” suggesting that I’ve made similarly poor choices in that category.

While on the subject of the AGNSW, a rural reader has written to complain about the new arrangements for Members. It seems the old Country Membership has been abolished and replaced with four corporate-sounding choices: Explore, Connect, Inspire and Champion. Upon inquiry she found that her Country Membership would be automatically transferred to the Champion Membership, jumping from $110 to $255 per year. She suspects that few country members will want to pay extra for such dazzling benefits as one free coffee per week, and are more likely to take a cheaper option. She also lamented the fact that the slick new lounge is more like a bistro than a place where one can make a quiet cuppa and curl up with a book.

Opinions are pretty much divided on the new lounge, with many seeing it as a big advance on the old one. What I find most irritating are the bright, insipid names for the new Membership categories: Explore! Connect! Inspire! Champion! Who dreams up this stuff? Did they hire a team of marketing consultants or do it all by themselves? It’s the same dreary corporate mentality that sees everyone referring to the “Sydney Modern Project” as a ”campus”, or repeating the slogan: “For all”.

I’m willing to be contradicted on any of this, should any former Country members want to tell me how much they like the new categories. I’d also love to know the process behind all the buzzwords and slogans. Maybe I’m too primitive in my thinking, but I’ve always found slogans and other cute little marketing ploys to be distinct turn-offs that tend to treat adults as if they were children. Let’s have the art and forget about the plastic packaging.

This week has been one long series of distractions, wth the result that I haven’t been able to file a new art column. As the Herald, at last count, had at least three live pieces they’ve held over, I was hoping something might see the light of day, but as yet nothing has appeared. Because I need to send this newsletter I’m simply going to post the film column, on James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water, and some incidental pieces that have been sitting around for a while, namely four auction catalogue essays for Menzies, that might be of interest to anybody keen on Fred Williams, Jeffrey Smart or Lyn Chadwick.

As for the new Avatar, I went in with a certain trepidation, and emerged with mixed feelings. Although the film is visually extraordinary, the story and dialogue are as dopey as ever, while Cameron’s penchant for making grand statements about the environment or Indigenous people soon becomes tiresome. Nevertheless, this great egomaniac has legions of admirers, just like other famous figures who love to keep reminding us of their own dubious magnificence. To give Cameron his due, he hasn’t yet tried to sell us a set of limited edition NFTs.